Before Now – The Great Highway Raceway
I bought my first car in 1987 for $400. I hadn’t felt a need for an automobile until the opportunity to pick up a ramshackle 1963 Buick Electra came my way. Being a west-side kid, I naturally took my new ride out to the Great Highway to see how fast it could go.
This was not today’s Great Highway. Before the 1980s, south of Lincoln Way meant six lanes of no stoplights, curbs or crosswalks. I think only a couple of dim yellow cobra lampposts stood on the whole stretch to Sloat Boulevard. Driving at night in the fog on the cracked pavement, sand blowing across the road, my Electra topped 100 mph around Pacheco Street. It rattled like a box of marbles the whole time, but I was satisfied.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Great Highway was a popular place for teens to drag race, even if the winner often met a waiting SFPD squad car just past the finish line at Lincoln Way or Sloat Boulevard. Racing began to fade away after the Golden Gate National Recreation Area took over Ocean Beach in the 1970s. When the Great Highway received a shoreline makeover in the early 1990s with a median strip, walking paths, stoplights and crosswalks, dragging for pink slips was gone for good. At least I hope it’s gone, now that I am a sober man of middle years who regrets the reckless ways of his youth.
Mid-century teenagers didn’t invent speeding on the Great Highway. Joy riders on the scenic road were a recognized nuisance from the early 1900s. In 1912, the city’s Police Commission responded by forming a 30-officer motorcycle squad just to patrol Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach. The officers invented some daring tactics to deal with speeders, as this old newsreel demonstrates:
Drive safe this holiday season and watch out for any unmanned police motorcycles flying over the dunes.
Trivia answer: Last column we asked, “What heavyweight boxing champion trained at the Seal Rock House on the Great Highway in 1910?” Jack Johnson, the trailblazing African-American heavyweight, worked out at the Seal Rock House for his bout against the “Great White Hope,” Jim Jeffries. Johnson won.
New trivia question: What organization was famous for a huge New Year’s Day run on Ocean Beach every year?
Woody LaBounty is the founder of the Western Neighborhoods Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the history of western San Francisco, and the author of “Carville-by-the-Sea: San Francisco’s Streetcar Suburb.”